Visit by composer Robert Jager highlights season finale
Concerto competition winner Matt Janszen also featured
Putting a personality behind the name that appears in the right hand corner of every piece of music has become a spring obsession for Purdue University Bands who brings one of the band world's elite to campus each year.
Conductor/composer Robert Jager, who's as legendary for his sense of humor as the works that challenge all levels of musicians from junior high bands to professionals, gets the Elliott Hall spotlight in two season-ending concerts on Saturday and Sunday, April 24-25.
The Varsity, Collegiate, and Purdue Concert Bands are featured at an 8 p.m. Saturday concert in Elliott Hall. The Purdue Symphonic Band and Symphony Orchestra perform there at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission to both events is free with no tickets needed.
On Sunday, Jager shares the spotlight with Purdue Concerto Competition winner Matt Janszen who will perform Gershwin's Concerto in F on piano with the orchestra.
Jager's connection with Purdue, which goes back more than three decades, began in the era of Prof. Emeritus Al G. Wright and includes several visits to Purdue as well as a commissioned work titled "Cockney Rhapsody" that paid tribute to Wright's British heritage.
On April 24 and 25, area audiences get the rare opportunity to hear a composer conduct a variety of his own compositions with four different groups.
"If there's one word that describes Jager's music, it's vitality," says Bill Kisinger who directs the Collegiate Concert Band. "Another common thread among his pieces is that they always have unique twists because of the constant meter changes."
Meter changes tend to be very common in contemporary compositions but with Jager, Kisinger adds, "they don't get in the way of the music. The music always flows."
Collegiate Band, performing with two other concert bands on Saturday night, will present Jager's "To Music," a modern reflection on Franz Schubert's 19 th century German art song "An Die Musik."
"It's a deep, emotional piece with a few fragments related to Schubert, but it's definitely Jager with lot of short two and three measure solos. It's an incredibly artistic piece," Kisinger says.
For Symphonic Band director Jay Gephart, the chance to work with Jager is the culmination of a dream that began when Gephart was a youngster. "Jager's 'Third Suite' was one of the first band pieces I ever played as a student 30 years ago, and I grew up with an incredible amount of admiration for Robert Jager who's one of the great composers for band in the 20 th century," Gephart says.
When it came to picking a piece for the April 25 concert, Gephart didn't pick "Third Suite," instead opting for Jager's "Symphonia Noblissima."
"It's one of his earlier compositions. I heard it played at Hobart High School many years ago and have loved it ever since. He's written hundreds of works since then, but for me 'Symphonia Noblissima' is my favorite. I love the melody and the beautiful horn writing," Gephart says.
"This is one of those dream pieces. I knew when I had a band with a horn section that could play it, I would do it. With the Purdue Symphonic Band, I have that horn section for sure."
Both the weekend concerts have musical textures that stretch beyond Jager's original works. The Purdue Concert Band will perform a John Philip Sousa march, "The Gallant Seventh" as part of its program along with Percy Grainger's Irish ode to "Ye Banks and Braes O'Bonnie Doon." Kisinger's Collegiate Band also offers medleys of works by two other famous American composers - George Gershwin and Aaron Copland. Varsity Band, director by Pamela Nave, includes Ralph Vaughn Williams' arrangements of music by Gustav Holst from "The Planets."
On the Sunday, April25, the Purdue Symphony Orchestra shares the concert stage with the Symphonic Band and gives the music of Gershwin another spotlight.
Pianist Matt Janszen, a junior engineering major from Cincinnati, OH, performs Gershwin's "Concerto in F" with the orchestra. Janszen, who's participated in the Purdue Concerto Competition since his freshman year, found the third time was the charm, winning him the opportunity to perform the concerto with the orchestra behind him.
"This is the first time I've performed with a full orchestra and I'm just extremely excited about it. I've always been so fascinated by concertos and attracted to them, but you can learn one, and half the piece is not there if there's no orchestral accompaniment," he says.
Classically trained on piano from a young age, Janszen started developing an interest in jazz at Purdue. "I started easing into jazz through Gershwin which is jazz written down," he says. In 2003, he first performed the Gershwin concerto in the competition but didn't win. Refining the piece, and presenting it again in 2004, brought Janszen good luck. "The first year I just basically learned the piece. Then I decided to go back and focus on small details so I felt completely confident and could play it by memory and just enjoy myself."
Gephart describes Janszen as "a very aggressive pianist, and the Gershwin piece requires that. But there are also passages that allow him to display his expressive side. The character of the composition changes a lot and Matt is able to bring about that character in every way."
Although Janszen will finish his degree work in interdisciplinary engineering, he plans on doing master's studies in film scoring. "I forsee a really wonderful career related to music for Matt," Gephart adds. "He's one of those students whose life wouldn't be complete without music."